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Frequently Asked Questions About Iowa’s Unemployment Laws

Iowa’s statutes govern unemployment insurance rights and the benefits paid as a result of an unemployed individual’s inability to find gainful employment. Our unemployment law attorneys at Hedberg & Boulton, P.C., in Des Moines, help clients throughout Iowa with their unemployment claims. Here, they answer some of the more commonly asked questions about Iowa’s unemployment laws. 

Who is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits?

The principles stated here are guiding and must be applied to each unique claim for unemployment insurance benefits. Eligibility determinations for unemployment insurance benefits are generally fact-specific and require the consideration of multiple administrative rules and definitions. This outline is by no means the end-all, be-all of unemployment eligibility under Iowa law and should not be treated as such.

When filing a claim for unemployment insurance benefits, an individual should be aware of the nature of the process and the rights he or she has. A Des Moines employment law attorney can help them understand both these things.

What do I need to know about filing deadlines in the unemployment process?

The unemployment process is quick moving. It features multiple appeal rights for both the employer and employee. Each of these deadlines falls very shortly after a decision is reached. It is therefore important any appeal is timely filed. Consult with an attorney early in the process, to ensure the attorney has time to file an appearance and properly prepare for any hearing or appeal necessary.

My employer has work-related documents important to my case. Can I get them?

As an unemployment claimant, you have a right to work-related documents in the possession of your employer. You may request any documents from you employer you feel prove your eligibility. If your employer refuses to give them to you, you may request a subpoena from Iowa Workforce Development. These documents can include personnel files, employee handbook or manual, or wage and hour sheets. Request these documents early in the process to give you time to receive them.

How does vacation pay affect my unemployment benefits?

The rules provide that a claimant is not to collect unemployment insurance benefits for a time period when they also received vacation pay. When this occurs, the agency may institute proceedings to determine whether the claimant was overpaid; that is, if the claimant was paid vacation pay overlapping with the claimant’s receipt of unemployment insurance benefits, the claimant must pay back the unemployment benefits. Because employers must pay employees for vacation time accrued under the employer’s vacation leave policy at the time of discharge, communicate to the agency whether you as a claimant have received any vacation pay to prevent the agency from claiming it has overpaid you benefits.

If you were paid vacation pay at the same time you received unemployment benefits, contacting an attorney is a crucial step in sorting this problem out.

If my claim gets denied, can I appeal or can I request a hearing?

Provided it is logistically fair to both the employer and employee, the claimant may request an in-person appeal hearing. With an attorney’s help, request an in-person hearing when filing an appeal of the fact-finding decision; or file immediately upon receiving notice of the appeal hearing.

What are the different types of unemployment cases?

Typically, unemployment cases come down to three separate categories, These are (1) the employee was fired (2) the employee quit (3) the employee was laid off due to a lack of work available.

If the employee was fired, the employer has the burden of proving the employee committed misconduct, justifying termination. Misconduct is a fairly high standard for employers to prove, and is further discussed below.

If the employee quit, the employee has the burden of proving the quit was for “good cause attributable to the employer” to receive unemployment benefits. This is a difficult standard for employees to meet, as it requires proof the employer’s actions either amounted to a constructive discharge (where the employee was forced to quit) or the quit was directly related to the employer’s misconduct. Simply being unhappy with working conditions or treatment at a place of employment does not allow an employee to quit and recover benefits.

If the employee was laid off for lack of work, the employee is likely eligible for unemployment benefits.

Even if your case seems straightforward, obtaining the unemployment benefits you deserve can be a challenge. Partnering with an attorney can improve your chances of recovering them.

What does it mean to be "able and available" to return to work?

In order to receive unemployment benefits, an employee must show he or she is able and available to return to work. The employee need not show he or she could return to the same specific job or line of work he or she performed, but rather there is some gainful employment the worker could potentially hold. This issue becomes a key consideration in cases where employees suffer work injuries and may be entitled to both workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits.

Does employee misconduct prevent unemployment benefits?

When an employer fires an employee, the employer has the burden of proving the employee is disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits because the employee committed an act of misconduct.

An employer has the right to set whatever standard of performance it deems proper for its business. However, the employer’s own standard does not determine whether a discharged employee is eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. While an employer’s policies may be considered in reaching a decision, an employee’s eligibility is a question of law governed by the Iowa Administrative Code.

Iowa Administrative Code Rule 871–24.32(1)(a) gives the definition of misconduct:

“Misconduct” is defined as a deliberate act or omission by a worker that constitutes a material breach of the duties and obligations arising out of such worker’s contract of employment. Misconduct, as the term is used in the disqualification provision, is limited to conduct evincing such willful or wanton disregard of an employer’s interest as is found in deliberate violation or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect of employees, or in carelessness or negligence of such degree of recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or evil design, or to show an intentional and substantial disregard of the employer’s interests or of the employee’s duties and obligations to the employer. On the other hand, mere inefficiency, unsatisfactory conduct, failure in good performance as the result of inability or incapacity, inadvertencies or ordinary negligence in isolated instances, or good faith errors in judgment or discretion are not to be deemed misconduct within the meaning of the statute.

Misconduct: Excessive and Unexcused Absenteeism

Under Iowa Administrative Code Rule 871–24.32(7), a claimant is disqualified from receiving unemployment insurance benefits if the claimant has been excessively absent from work.

Where an employee has been absent due to “illness or other reasonable grounds” and the employee has properly reported his or her illness to the employer, an employee may be found eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

Absences resulting from occurrences within an employer’s “personal responsibility” have been found to be disqualifying. Examples include: car troubles, lack of child care and late buses.

An employer’s attendance policy is considered in determining whether an employee’s absences are excessive and/or unexcused, but it is generally not the deciding factor.

Misconduct: Falsified Work Application

Iowa Administrative Code Rule 871–24.32(6) states an individual who “willfully and deliberately” makes a false statement on an application for work and the false statement could result in endangering the health, safety or morals of employees at the workplace or result in legal liabilities or penalties for the employer, is committing an act of misconduct.

This rule has been expanded by the courts to include misrepresentations made during the interview process.

The courts have held the misrepresentation must be related to job performance in order to bar eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits.

Misconduct: An Employee’s Refusal to Sign a Written Reprimand

If an employee is given a written reprimand, an employer can require the employee to sign the reprimand to acknowledge receipt. Misconduct may be found when the employer has a policy in place requiring an employee’s signature for acknowledgment of receipt only, the employee is aware of this policy, and the employer fires the employee for failure to sign.

However, an employee need not sign a written reprimand to show agreement with the substance of the accusation, if the employee does not agree with it.

An employee may indicate disagreement with the reprimand in a note next to his or her signature. The employee may also request the employer to include a statement written by the employee on his or her side in the file along with the written reprimand.

Misconduct: Workplace Drug-Testing

In order for an allegedly positive workplace drug test to disqualify an employee for unemployment insurance benefits, the drug test must have been performed in compliance with either the Iowa Private Sector Drug-Free Workplace Act or applicable federal law. If the drug test was illegally administered, it cannot provide the basis for finding disqualifying misconduct.

Whether a drug test complies with state or federal law is usually a legal question.

If an employee is fired due to a drug test, under Iowa law the drug test must have complied with the procedural requirements set forth in the Iowa Code. If the employer fails to follow those provisions, the employee may have a wrongful termination lawsuit. If an employee has questions regarding whether a drug test was legally performed, he or she may contact our law firm for a free consultation.

Misconduct: Insubordination

A finding of insubordination can occur in a variety of discharges. The administrative law judge will apply the general rule, asking whether the former employee continuously failed to follow reasonable instructions. However, if failing to perform a task occurs in good faith or for good cause, the claimant will not be disqualified. The administrative law judge will look at the circumstances surrounding the employer’s instructions and the reason why the employee refused to follow the instructions, in making the determination.

Misconduct: Language

The use of improper language in the workplace may be found disqualifying misconduct where it is profane, offensive, threatening, and/or disrespectful. The administrative law judge looks at the workplace environment, workplace policies, and the nature of the relationship between the individuals involved in the exchange of allegedly improper language to determine unemployment insurance benefits eligibility.

Misconduct: Fighting

If an individual engages in a fight at the workplace, it may be deemed disqualifying misconduct. The administrative law judge looks at who instigated the fight, or, who was the aggressor. Generally, where an individual is the instigator, disqualifying misconduct is found. If the claimant was the recipient of the first blow and then defending him- or her-self, the claimant may still be found eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. However, if the claimant was involved with an improper verbal exchange which led to the fight, benefits may be denied.

Misconduct: Off-Duty Conduct

If an employee is fired for off-duty conduct, the analysis of the hearing officer will focus on whether the employer has a work rule in place forbidding the type of off-duty behavior leading to the discharge.

Misconduct: Gross Misconduct

If the claimant is fired for an indictable offense and has either been convicted of said offense or has admitted to committing the said offense, the claimant will be ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits. The employer must have known of the act and discharged the claimant for the act which the claimant was later indicted on.

Misconduct: Carelessness and Negligence

Making a mistake or mistakes in the performance of one’s job will generally not disqualify one from receiving unemployment insurance benefits. The mistakes must demonstrate a “carelessness or negligence of such degree of recurrence as to manifest equal culpability, wrongful intent or evil design.”

Quits or Discharge Due to Injury or Illness

When a worker becomes sick, injured, or pregnant, it can be a difficult time. Depending on whether or not the worker suffers from a work-related illness, disease, allergy, or injury, it can change the burden on the worker should he or she lose his or her job due to the illness. The worker should ask his or her treating physician if the health condition is work-related. If the health condition is work-related, the worker should ask the doctor to put it in writing and provide a copy of the doctor’s note to the employer as soon as possible. If the condition is work-related, the worker very likely has workers’ compensation rights.

For more information on workers’ compensation rights in Iowa, please consult Iowa Workers’ Compensation Law or feel free to contact our law firm.

What if an employee quits or is discharged due to an injury or illness or a work-related health condition?

If a worker is ordered to take medical leave by the worker’s treating physician for a work-related health condition, the employee should communicate this with the employer. Unemployment insurance benefits are not disability benefits. In order to receive unemployment insurance benefits, a claimant must be able and available to work. This usually means a worker who has been ordered to take medical leave by a doctor will not be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. However, while on medical leave for a work-related health condition, the worker may be entitled to disability benefits under Iowa Workers’ Compensation Laws and/or a disability insurance plan through the worker’s employer.

When a worker with a work-related health condition is released to return to work, the employee should notify the employer in writing of this fact. A worker should do this in writing even when the worker has been laid off or fired by the employer due to the employee’s injury and/or medical leave. If the employer refuses to reinstate the worker, the worker should consider filing for unemployment insurance benefits. The worker is released by the worker’s treating physician and is likely therefore able and available to return to work and the employer is refusing to allow the worker to do so.

Our employment law attorneys fight for injured workers’ rights to be free from retaliatory discharge for pursuing the worker’s rights under Iowa’s workers’ compensation laws, to be free from discrimination based on a disability, and to take leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act. These are time sensitive claims making it important for a worker to investigate his or her rights shortly after those rights may have been violated.

What if an employee quits or is discharge due to an injury or Illness or non-work-related health conditions?

In order to give one the best possible chance at receiving unemployment insurance benefits, maintain contact and communication with one’s employer. If a worker becomes sick, sustains an injury, has an allergic reaction, or becomes pregnant, the worker should consult with a doctor. If that doctor advises the worker time away from work due to the health condition is necessary, the worker should get a doctor’s note and present it as soon as possible to the worker’s employer. If the employer has a policy regarding absences and calling in, the worker should follow the procedures for timely reporting of an absence. Upon being released to return to work by the treating physician, the worker should notify the employer immediately and do so in writing. The employee should do this even if he or she has been laid off or fired by the employer, because the law requires the worker to do so in order to be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

For more information on an injured worker’s right to be free from discrimination based on a disability, and to take leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, please feel free to contact our firm. These are time sensitive claims making it important for a worker to investigate his or her rights shortly after those rights may have been violated.

Is an employee eligible for unemployment benefits if they quit?

In situations where the worker quits his or her job with the employer, the worker must show he or she quit for good cause attributable to the employer. In claims where the claimant-employee quit his or her employment, the burden of proof is on the claimant. The hearing officer’s analysis begins by determining whether there is evidence the employee intended to quit and whether the employer committed an overt act to carry out the employee’s intent to quit.

Quits: Substantial Change in the Conditions of Employment

A claimant may be found to have quit for good cause attributable to the employer where the employer changes the working conditions for the employee. The administrative rule states, “The change of contract of hire must be substantial in nature and could involve changes in working hours, shifts, remuneration, location of employment or drastic modification in type of work. Minor changes in a worker’s routine on the job would not constitute a change of contract of hire.”

An employee may be deemed to have agreed to the change if he or she does not resign in a timely manner.

Quits: Unsafe, Illegal, Detrimental, or Intolerable Working Conditions

Many jobs are governed by state and/or federal statutes, regulations, and laws. An employee may quit his or her job when an employer requires the employee to violate the law. The claimant must know which statute or regulation is violated and present it to the hearing officer. When an employer fires an employee for refusing to violate a statute or regulation, this may give rise to a wrongful termination claim under Iowa law. To learn more about wrongful termination, contact our firm for a free consultation.

Quits: Resign or Be Fired

It is not uncommon for an employer to offer an employee the option of resigning their position or being discharged. When this occurs, the agency will not treat the resignation as a quit due to the circumstances under which the employee resigns.

Quits: Additional Regulations

There is a laundry list of scenarios treated as a quit for a good cause attributable to the employer found in Iowa Administrative Code rule 871–24.26 and rule 871–24.25. If the claimant requests this rule from Iowa Workforce Development, the agency will usually provide a copy of it to the claimant.

Our firm provides a free consultation with a worker who has become separated from employment and has filed for unemployment insurance benefits or is considering filing. This webpage provides a few general legal principles in some of the more common unemployment insurance benefits claims. It is by no means inclusive. It is therefore in the claimant’s best interest to consult with an attorney.

Why Hire Hedberg & Boulton, P.C.?

At Hedberg & Boulton, P.C., our employment law attorneys have received countless awards and honors. But what we’re proudest of is the difference we make in employees’ lives. We exclusively protect workers’ rights and are unafraid of fighting big businesses. Our founder, Arthur Hedberg, took pride in never representing a corporation, and we continue his legacy today. We are also deeply rooted in Iowa, and have extensive experience protecting workers throughout the state. With 70 years of history behind us, you can be confident that we will protect you.

Free Consultation And Case Evaluations

Every legal claim or scenario is different. Our employment law attorneys offer free case evaluations to help you evaluate your claims based on the facts of your situation. To schedule your free appointment, call our office at 515-446-9861 or send us an email through our website.